India and Afghanistan have agreed to deepen defence and security cooperation to increase the operational capabilities and mobility of the Afghanistan National Security and Defence Forces (ANSDF).

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said his talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, especially in military training and equipment, were “very productive, resulting in satisfaction for the Afghan side.”

In an interaction with journalists and strategic affairs experts here on Saturday, he said, “We hope to have an army to defend Afghanistan through its own resources and its own citizens. To that objective we are being helped by India.”

Afghanistan had given a wish list of military equipment as well as sought greater cooperation in building up a battle-capable ANSDF. India was wise to carefully weigh the implications of greater defence cooperation, he said.

The President declined to give details about the wish list, but noted that this cooperation was on for a long time.

Besides defence and security, Dr. Singh and Mr. Karzai on Friday also agreed to work with Iran for developing new trade routes to facilitate trade and transit to Afghanistan and beyond. One of these is a land route beginning from the Iranian port of Chah-bahar. It enters Zaranj on the Afghan border from where India has built a road feeding into the garland highway connecting major Afghan cities. A spur connects Afghanistan to Central Asia, thus opening up further prospects for India’s trade and economic drive in non-traditional markets.

Mr. Karzai said both Kabul and New Delhi had applied for land at Chah-bahar to set up administrative and trade facilitation offices. He wanted Central Asian countries to also participate in this endeavour.

The President was confident of India going ahead with $11 billion Hajigak iron ore project, but pointed out that the Afghans were being very cautious about opening up its mineral resources for exploitation to prevent them from becoming a source of trouble as is the case in some African countries.

On the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that has seen Mr. Karzai and United States officials exchange harsh words, he said both India and Afghanistan wanted U.S.\NATO troops to continue being stationed in the country. “It is good for Afghanistan as they will fill a certain vacuum of resources and bring to Afghanistan in a larger way a sense of stability.”

“We also discussed why we should have the peace process launched before the BSA and why we need complete protection of citizens. So the Prime Minister and I agreed on the need for Afghan conditionalities to be fulfilled. They need not frame it that way. Both are necessary – their presence in Afghanistan as well as protecting Afghan homes against attacks.”

Asked if the U.S. might walk away completely if the BSA, in its present form, is not signed, he laughed away the suggestion, describing it as “brinkmanship.”

Talks with Taliban

Mr. Karzai described talks with the Taliban as the “need of Afghan people”, but drew a distinction between those who are with terrorist networks in their actions and outlook and those drawn into insurgency due to circumstances beyond their control and that of the Afghan government.

He disapproved of the killing of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’s Hakimullah Mehsud a day before he was to hold peace talks with Islamabad. “The U.S. should have given an opportunity to engage in talks. It should have waited to see if those talks would be successful.”

The President praised Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for expressing his desire “in very clear words” for an improved relationship with Afghanistan and India.

According to a Ministry of External Affairs release, Dr. Singh conveyed India’s confidence in Afghanistan’s ability to build a strong country that also contributes to regional peace and prosperity. The two leaders also agreed to work on further strengthening regional cooperation, it noted adding that India is hosting the next meeting of the Senior Officials of Heart of Asia in January.

Mr. Karzai also met President Pranab Mukherjee, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid and National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon.

Mr. Mukherjee hosted Mr. Karzai to a private dinner on Friday evening where the two leaders discussed bilateral, regional and international issues of common concern. Mr. Mukherjee recalled his visit to Afghanistan to inaugurate the strategic Zaranj-Delaram Highway.Mr. Karzai is accompanied by Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Zarar Ahmad Osmani, National Security Adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Acting Minister of Commerce & Industries Shaker Kargar and other senior officials.